Most people would say that 2016 has been a bad year. The United States presidential election, Brexit, the horror happening in Aleppo, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, and the deaths of several beloved celebrities are all just a few of the many reasons 2016 is generally regarded as an awful year.
If you agree with the idea that 2016 has more or less been a dumpster fire of a year then what are you thinking 2017 will be? Will it be a reprieve or will this fire just rage out of control? Well, at the Naples Cathedral in Naples, Italy they now believe 2017 will be a disaster all because of a small phial of some old blood.
Yes, you read that right. In Naples they gather around a few times a year to watch what is supposedly the dried blood of Saint Januarius liquefy for a bit. If it fails to happen during the ceremony, as it failed to happen a few days ago, then that is supposedly a portent for a year of calamity.
OK, time for some history. Saint Januarius, as Christian history records it, was the bishop of Naples in the early 4th century. The Roman emperor Diocletian really did not like Christians and he is considered to have enacted the harshest of all the persecutions of them just a few years before Constantine became emperor and made the empire pro-Christian. It was during Diocletian’s extreme persecution that Januarius was beheaded in the year 305.
Now, no contemporary references to Januarius exist. The earliest mention of him we have comes from a letter written by a bishop more than a hundred years after his supposed death. But more than a THOUSAND years later, in the year 1389, is the first time the vial of his blood, which was supposedly collected at his death, is mentioned along with the miracle of its liquefaction. An earlier description of the cult of Januarius from 1382 mentions neither the blood nor the miracle of its liquefaction while describing the cult’s practices and rituals.
OK, suspicious yet? No one seems to have cause to mention this blood or its associated miracle for over a thousand years and then it just kind of pops up? After 1389 the cult began regularly celebrating the liquefaction of the blood on specific days of the year.
The blood has not gone through the kind of rigorous scientific study that we would like, but there are a few reasonable hypotheses about what is really happening when the blood liquefies. Thixotropic materials can change viscosity based on whether they are static or being subjected to motion. If the vial has something like hydrated iron oxide inside of it, a material easily available for those living in the medieval era, then the blood-like material would look solid when at rest, but when handled (like when they bring it out for their ritual) it would become more fluid due to the change in viscosity.
There was some research done in 2010 by professor Giuseppe Geraci who found that blood stored in the way that Januarius’ blood is stored just behaves that way naturally. He apparently experimented with his own blood and found that it would change its solid-liquid phase when shaken.
So what to make of all this? Well, like the statue of Jesus that was dripping water that turned out to be from a leaking toilet, the faithful are quick to declare miraculous reasons behind events that have underlying causes that can be explained rationally with scientific evidence. But try telling the faithful that.